Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy 18th, F!

Dear Frances,

If you should read this, I know that on Monday (30 June) you will celebrate your 18th Birthday - I am writing to wish you a very happy and enjoyable day.

To be honest I feel I don't know much about you any more, even though I spent more than 15 years with you. 

The night you were born at the hospital in Hackney was such a happy one.

You were a great kid and wonderful daughter growing up.

I have so many memories of the time we spent together that it seems incredible that, after my separation and divorce from mum, I have not been able to see you or your sister for two-and-a-half years. At your time of life, those years make a huge difference to your interests. I am sad to have missed them.

I guess you are taking your 'A' Levels, after which, I assume, you will go to university. Good luck! I trust you will be more sensible than I was in my varsity days.


There is never a day when I do not think of you and your sister E and wonder if one day soon we will be reunited and reconciled.


I bought you an 18th birthday card today. 

I have photographed it (left and right with Mr Cheeky, typically, getting himself into the picture to wish you a Happy Birthday!) because I cannot face having a card sent back again.

If you would like it and your birthday gift, please get in touch. 

You know my email address and I am using my old personal mobile number again. 

I would love to hear from you. From E, too.

Much love, birthday girl, 

Dad xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Mr Cheeky is a lot better.

Although still recuperating, he has been full of beans, trying to type on the
computer or riding the record player, as if his road traffic accident never happened.

I have taken to making up a boudoir for him in the living room because he tends to try to wake me up with a nosy at 3am or by bashing his head against the locked catflap.

Tomorrow, he will go back to the vet's and may have his stitches out and his collar taken off.

However, he is not going out again at night. Mr Cheeky's nights on the tiles are over.

Even when he is fully recovered, Mr Cheeky will be a day cat, only allowed out between 8am and 6pm.

Between teatime and breakfast, he will be locked in, mainly for his own personal safety - but also to avoid another 700 quid vet's bill!

It is so good to see him back on form.

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Brazil 2014 has been fantastic. I have never watched or enjoyed so much of a World Cup.

Not going into work is, of course, a big advantage in this. I would certainly have missed the 5pm kick-off matches.

As I suggested in my last posting, I was not surprised that England went out in the group stage. For all the excuses, they are just not good enough on the international stage.

My favourite team so far is Costa Rica - a tiny country who topped England's Group A after beating Uruguay and Italy.

It was also amazing to see Greece go through after a last-gasp goal against the Ivory Coast.

Who will win? Who can say - it has been a crazy tournament, though I still suspect Brazil will be a prophet in their homeland!

As for Uruguay's and Liverpool FC's Mr Suarez, I feel the spirit of Mr Cheeky must have entered the old boy.

Mr Cheeky is not agin indulging in a playful bite, not realising how mainstream society views these incidents, despite his protestations of innocence.

I suspect that despite Mr Suarez's talent his days on Merseyside are drawing to a close. Why would Liverpool pay him millions, when Mr Cheeky would chomp for free?

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Battle of Hove Park

What on earth has been happening at Hove Park School? It appears the head teacher of the popular school in Hove and its governors want it to become an academy. A great number of the parents, the local education authority, local council and many of the students don't.

The head teacher is a guy called Derek Trimmer who says on its website that the school's priorities are "to Raise Academic Standards and to Narrow the Gap in experience and attainment of all Hove Park Students" [sic].

The Hands Off Hove Park School campaign - slogan: "say NO to academy status for Hove Park School - says that "academising" the school would not help pupils' learning and that it would lose access to a wide range of local authority services from which it has benefited in recent years.

A campaign spokesman says: "We are dismayed with the way the school is conducting moves towards this proposal, without an open, transparent and democratic consultation.

"We are campaigning to convince Hove Park governors their proposal will be detrimental to the school, its pupils and local communities and should be rejected outright.

"We are against the dismantling of state education across the country and are involved in the wider campaign to ensure all children now, and for generations to come, have access to excellent education in local comprehensive community schools with fair and equal admissions policies."


Brighton and Hove Council is also concerned. In early June a meeting of Children & Young People's Committee voted in favour for a ballot of the school's parents on whether it should become an academy. 

This is something that the head and the governing body had been trying to avoid.

Academies are, according to the Government's own website, "publicly funded independent schools". 

This in itself sounds oxymoronic. Could you imagine Eton or Harrow being publicly funded? If a school is genuinely independent, why should the taxpayer have to contribute? If it is publicly funded, how can it be independent?

Academies "don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times" and they "get money direct from the Government, not the local council".

The Government explanation goes on: "Some academies have sponsors such as businesses. . . Sponsors are responsible for improving the performance of their schools." 

None of this sounds to me like a particularly good idea. 

What's the point of having a national curriculum if some publicly funded schools can opt out?

You may run a cracking pallet business, but how does qualify you to drive performance in schools?

It is interesting to note that Mr Trimmer - a so-called superhead who has also become "executive head" of a nearby primary school - has been criticised for going on a work trip to Saudi Arabia.

In a press release, the campaign says it has written to the chair of the governors to ask why members of the senior leadership team, with other staff members, are making trips to exotic locations like Saudi Arabia and China during term time.

Nice work if you can get it!

The campaign says: "The school has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request [about this] over a month ago."

It would appear senior staff have been to Saudi, China, Germany and Denmark and the trips are believed to "relate to the school's iPad roll-out and involve the multi-national computer company Apple."

Stranger and stranger. Mr Trimmer made a big deal in the local press in Brighton about every kid in his school getting an iPad.

Then, it was reported online, that the parents would have to pay for them!

I have also heard talk of headteachers' pay, and governors' rewards, going through the roof when schools become academies.

Surely, that could not have anything to do with it?

It strikes me the Conservatives have made much of the localism agenda. Writing in The Guardian in 2009, David Cameron argued: "Tony Benn once spoke about wanting a fundamental shift of power and wealth to working people. I too want that fundamental shift - to local people and local institutions." He added that the Conservative Party wanted "nothing less than radical decentralisation, to reach every corner of the country".

How does taking local schools such as Hove Park out of the hands of local people and local education authorities and making them directly accountable to central government fit in with localism? 

Whatever the arguments for and agin academies, what has happened at Hove Park School has not been democratic.

Three of the parent-governor places on the governing body have not even been filled. Elections are only being held now on the orders of the local education authority.

If you want to find out more about this perplexing and troubling issue, check out Hands Off Hove Park petition website, or the blog. For what the controversial head has said and done, Google "Derek Trimmer".

My friend Natasha Steel, a mum at the School and leading Hands Off campaigner, tells me there will be a march and picnic on 5 July, starting on the lawns opposite the King Alfred Leisure Centre car park in Hove.

Her spouse, stand-up Mark Steel, and my old chum Shappi Khorsandi will provide the comedic entertainment later in a rally at Hove Park, where Brighton MP Caroline Lucas will be speaking.

It should be an interesting event.

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I am enjoying Brazil 2014 - the third World Cup since I have been writing this blog.

Of the 11 matches so far, there have not been no draws, and around 35 goals have been scored - an average of just over three per game.

England has played well. . . but not well enough.

They would be fortunate to get through the group stage and I would be amazed if they got further than the quarter finals.

The Dutch have played brilliantly and Brazil look very strong.

I loved watching little Costa Rica beat Uruguay 3 -1, and Switzerland winning against Ecuador in the final minute of stoppage time. The Swiss never gave up trying.

Generally, I don't even particularly enjoy or watch football (apart from when the Mighty Rooks are at the Dripping Pan, of course).

Real football fans must be seventh heaven.

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Our beloved cat Mr Cheeky is making a good recovery after his misfortune with a motor vehicle.

Vet Helen at New Priory animal hospital was absolutely brilliant with the little chap.

She was on the night-shift when he went in and kept us apprised of his progress by phone. Much appreciated!

Nurse Tori was also really good when I picked up Mr Cheeky some 24 hours later. Mr Cheeky seemed a changed cat.

Unfortunately, he needs an operation for a hernia injury sustained in his accident. I took him into Acorn vet's where they are also really good.

In the car, Houdini-like, Mr Cheeky somehow managed to get out of his basket and I had to do an emergency stop to catch him again.

I am picking him up after his op later.

Fingers crossed.

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I was sad about Rik Mayall's death.

I used to interview him occasionally when he was playing Alan B'stard, and knew one of his writers, Maurice Gran.

Rik was a tremendous performer - a natural comedian.

Recently I watched a DVD of Believe Nothing, in which he played Quadruple Professor Adonis Cnut, co-starring with Michael Maloney and Emily Bruni.

Only one series, of six episodes, was made before it was axed by ITV in 2002.

It is absolutely hilarious. Check it out!

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I have received a hardy annual: the letter from the Allotment Society reminding me to weed my plot at Earwig Corner rather more assiduously.

For once I do not have an excuse for not doing more.

In fact, in my current situation, gardening seems entirely appropriate.

I have planted a triangle of crops: onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes, horseradish.

Flowers of various hues and breed are seeded around the outside.

Now I am creating a herb garden with a recycled groyne from Shoreham as a feature.

But the weeds keep coming.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mr Cheeky's Car Crash

It has been a most distressing day. Our beloved cat, Mr Cheeky, did not return after his nocturnal rounds and I spent much of the morning scouring the neighbourhood for him. 

I was very relieved when he turned up at lunchtime, albeit looking rather oily, and he immediately ran under the bed in the spare room to sleep off his malfeasance. However, by late afternoon, when Mr Cheeky had refused to eat or drink and seemed dead to the world, it began to dawn on me that he was seriously ill.

He came out from under the bed briefly and I saw, for the first time, that he had lost a small strip of fur on one side of his body. I realised he was not just tired from a night on the tiles but in enormous pain. I called our vet's who suggested I get him in to see them as soon as possible. But when I appeared with the cat basket, Mr Cheeky hid under the bed again and I simply could not get him out.

I produced his favourite foods, then capnip, begged hm to emerge and, reluctantly, tried to move him with a broom handle. All to absolutely no avail.

Gradually, by teatime, I started to believe Mr Cheeky was dying. He had not eaten or drank anything all day and would hardly make a sound. You could watch him and not realise he was breathing. I started to panic. He looked like a goner.

I desperately tried to find a vet who would come out to me but no one seemed available. Luckily, my girlfriend came to the rescue. We ripped the bed apart and eventually managed to get a hissing and biting Mr Cheeky into his cat basket and off to the vet's by 7pm.

We were in the nick of time. The vet shaved off the fur from his stomach to reveal some fairly substantial wounds, and said he has been in a road traffic accident - probably run over by a car. I felt terribly guilty that I had not realised this earlier and got him into the vet's during the afternoon. 

The vet gave him various injections: painkillers and antibiotics, and booked him into the animal hospital, New Priory Vets. Like the first vet's, they were incredibly good, giving Mr Cheeky a really thorough examination and doing everything possible to see him through his trauma.

It looked like Mr Cheeky had passed under a speeding car, flipped over and battered in oil, but, miraculously, with no bones broken.

By now, I think Mr Cheeky realised that he needed these people and had really started to cooperate.

I received a call from Helen the vet at just after 11pm to say that Mr Cheeky had started eating and drinking again and was even generating a little purr. I was in tears of joy.

Mr Cheeky will probably be in hospital for 24 hours and then come home. I don't know what to do about letting him out in future. We don't live very near a busy road and he was so insistent on going out and, apparently, so cautious, at first at least.

He has lost one of his nine lives. Maybe more.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

Home Alone In Hove

It has been a strange few weeks - home alone in Hove. 

Fortunately, there has been some good weather and, of course, now I have the lovely Mr Cheeky to keep me company.

When I am at my desk, Mr Cheeky likes to sleep on the nearby bed, on top of any papers I might want to consult!

He seems very happy. Occasionally, he wakes up and jumps onto the desk where he sits down beside the screen and telephone and watches me sort out the household bills or other chores.

 
This week he has been campaigning to be allowed out.

Yesterday, I caved in, put the collar and magnets on him, after a little tussle, and pushed Mr Cheeky through the catflap.

Guess what? He completely changed his mind and decided he did not want to go out after all!

Early this morning, he went out for a wander (at around 5am), returning at the dot of 8am for his breakfast! I do not think it will be long before he has claimed his territory.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and walking around the city.

We went to some Brighton Fringe shows, really enjoying Phil Lucas and Julie Oliver's Heat Pumps, Kate Garraway and Other Niche Concerns, and also Luisa Omielan's Am I Right, Ladies?

We saw Luisa at my old friend Nik Coppin's Shaggers comedy club at The Quadrant and then in her solo show.

She is extremely funny and very good at acting - a massive star in the making.

Talking of stars, I was taking my morning constitutional when I chanced upon Gary Lineker making another crisps commercial.


There was a circus of film crew and extras around him.

It was like they were shooting a Hollywood blockbuster.

Not going into London during the day has allowed me to get to know Brighton and Hove in a way I never have done before.

There is so much going on, it is terrific. Always something new to see or do.

And being at home full-time, you do everything for yourself.

This morning, for instance, the record player broke, so I dismantled it and worked out how to get the rubber band that drives the turntable back on. Very cunning how it is done.





I feel OK, much better and stronger than I did a few weeks ago.

Brighton is a funny place. Even the seagulls are an endless source of amusement.

The other day, I even saw two of them practising their acrobatic skills, one standing atop the other.




Last month, we went to Ireland for the first anniversary of my niece Emily's tragic demise.

My brother Nic, his wife Catriona and the wider community where they live in Tipperary have created a beautiful monument, Emily's Seat, at the spot where she died.

It was dedicated in a moving speech by Catriona and also with some words by the well-known Jesuit priest and intellectual Oliver Rafferty, a great preacher and raconteur.


After the dedication, people chatted and Nic and Catriona sat on the seat.

An extraordinary thing occurred. One or two children sat down next to them and then, gradually and completely spontaneously, all the children of the neighbourhood gathered round. Emily's little friends.

Back in Hove, my acting class carries on. This will be my sixth consecutive run. Performance night is on Tuesday, 24 June, from 7.30pm at the Iron Duke, Waterloo Street, Brighton/Hove.

One time I am in two scenes, from Days of Wine and Roses by J P Miller, and Private Wars by James McLure. Both good ones.

It is a drop-in class and, consequently, performers often drop out during the eight-week run-up to performance night.

As I have written before, it is remarkable how our tutor, Steven - a son of famous Irish actor, the late Milo O'Shea, always produces a good show!

Life could be a lot worse. I have now completed 21 weeks of moderate drinking, which means I have not had a hangover for more than five months.

Never, ever getting drunk has changed my life.

Somehow, through sheer will power, moderate drinking has become my hard-wired habit.

Even under the most extreme stress, I have managed to keep my consumption of alcohol low.

What does the rest of June hold? There is Father's Day, which as a failed father I am not looking forward to, and also my younger daughter's 18th Birthday. I would love to see her but suspect that once again that will not happen.

I try to keep myself busy. I have been taking quite a lot of photographs.

My friend Guyan Porter, an artist, has put on a tremendous show, Future Dreaming, in Lewes.

As part of it, a large stone will dragged around Lewes tomorrow (Saturday, 7 June) and a book of debts burnt on Sunday (8 June).
It is well worth a look.

Next blog entry I plan to write about the Battle of Hove Park!

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